Friday, May 4, 2007

The Breathing Torah

Some Words of Torah
By: Ariel Vegosen
Sheva Fellow 2007 and BCI Alum 2000

I have always loved the idea of carrying in one pocket a piece of paper that says “the world was created for me” and another that says “I am nothing but dust.” It reminds me that the universe is divine, always moving in mysterious ways that match up perfectly and just when you think life is ironic and makes no sense, it turns out it was all planned.

Some things in the Torah are painful and difficult to understand, like why an all-knowing, merciful loving G-d would send ten plagues to the Egyptians in order to free us from slavery. Wasn’t there another more peaceful way? Couldn’t G-d - this all powerful being - non-violently end slavery? Wouldn’t that have been a better example? Just think, maybe then we wouldn’t have check points and curfews in the holy land.

I also struggle with the Torah concept of “Tumah” and “Taharah,” meaning impurity and purity. I don’t understand why in last weeks Torah portion it is stated that a woman on her period is considered “Tumah,” as in impure. Or why it says a man shall not lay with another man the same why he lies with a woman. Perhaps its not that I don’t understand these words so much as I don’t understand people’s interpretation of these words. And since G-d is all knowing, when writing this book G-d must have thought, people are really going to mess this up and create a world of hatred. As humans we have the power to read these purity laws and create a homophobic, sexist world and right now it seems to me that is what has happened. People are using this passage as part of religion to say that being anything other than straight is wrong. Also, people use this passage to exclude women from certain rituals when she is bleeding.

I have different interpretations for both:

Of course if a man lies with another man, that’s different from when a man lies with a woman. Different is not wrong, different can be beautiful and great. And anyway this portion doesn’t even mention women being with women. So my interpretation is when you are with someone that experience should be unique and beautiful to that moment. Homosexual love is acceptable and beautiful and should be acted on in a different way from straight love. And should be honored for its differences. As in the world should recognize and embrace queer culture and not expect it to look like straight culture.

My interpretation of a woman being Tumah on her period or after child birth is that there are secret special rituals for us women and because often times our stories have been written out of the Torah, we need to dig deeper and discover what these ancient rituals are. Women are not unclean or impure, we are Tumah. Which to me means the world should honor the gift of life and strength given to us and not put fear into our hearts around who we are. There are enough stories out there to convince a woman that periods are gross or disturbing, we need more stories that embrace our blood and our power. I know that an all knowing G-d would not create a world of fear, homophobia, and sexism. What would be the point of that? How would that be good?

The G-d I believe in, left the Torah to us for our interpretation. As it is said, “it is not in heaven” but here on earth we must decide. And for whatever reason people have interpreted this beautiful book in hurtful ways. I choose otherwise and I am encouraging you to do the same. To step out of the box, take a closer look, a closer read, and decide for yourself your own interpretation.

For example, why is it that Aaron’s sons have to pay the price of death for getting too close to G-d? I realize they did not follow the proper ritual laid out, but is death really a fair reaction to such a trespassing? Perhaps another way to look at their death is that it symbolizes transformation. The Torah spends a lot of time going over the sacrifice rituals and describing purity and impurity in people. It is ironic that Aaron’s sons died for doing a ritual to get closer to G-d, when today ritual is lacking in so many people’s lives, yet people long to be closer to G-d. I’d like to imagine that it is a great idea to practice ancient rituals and create new ones in an effort to get closer to G-d, myself, my friends, my family, my community, humankind, and all of nature. The symbolism of their death could be a transformation away from the slaughtering of animals and away from this idea that only certain people, the priests can do rituals. I think with the temple gone, we have the unique ability to create our own rituals with our own meanings.

This world was created, the Torah was written and now we get to create for ourselves how we want it to be. We get to decide our emotions, how we structure society, how our lives play out. We have power, infinite power to create whatever we want and need. Some times I see people getting stuck. They believe they have to work a certain job, stay in a town they don’t love, stick with a partner that doesn’t suit them, the list goes on and on…when really all we have to do is break the chains we have created around ourselves to be free. The only limitations that exist are the ones that we create. I, along with you, have the power to choose. All of our dreams can be destiny. And when you shine your light out into this world and when you believe, the universe responds accordingly, after all it was created for you. And when you forget to be humble and you get too greedy the universe reminds you that you are nothing but dust.

If someone asked me to convert them standing on one foot as was asked of Hillel. I would say you get to choose how you want to live your life. You are in control of your emotions and your destiny. It might appear that society has already been created, but you have the power to change it. Torah is constantly being interpreted to match whatever the reader wants to read. May you find peace, love, happiness, kindness, compassion, and do onto others as they want done to them. May you live your life well and may you decide what well means to you. The world is open to interpretation; choose your path and your blessings. I hope you enjoy.

And if you don’t, that’s your choice.

Much love and many blessings, shinning soul light on this desert world and out into the universe… Ariel Vegosen

Sunday, April 29, 2007

We here at Sheva are super excited! For the next four days we will be away from the computer and phone world as we embark on our camping and kayaking adventures. I am sure when we return we will have lots to share.

This weekend I have been reflecting on Sheva, all I have learned and how meaningful this community is to me. On Thursday and Friday Ezra, Lisa, and I spent time writing up all of the amazing projects we have worked on since Jan. and it really has been a lot! From the bike trail to the pond to leading hikes to weeding to never ending watering to becoming a community this truly has been a wonderful learning and growing experience.

I am eager to see what awaits us this week....the week of adventure and new knowledge...

Radiating much love to the earth and everyone..... more to come so hang on tight during this not at all commercial break!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lisa's Words of Wisdom

We all make mistakes in life. Often, mistakes can be corrected - but there is one mistake that is not easily fixable and can have severe consequences. This mistake is using our words unwisely. These words can take the form of gossip, lashon ha’rah, anger, or what I want to focus on today – criticism.
Right now I am participating in a 5 month fellowship; living, working, eating, and spending time with only two other participants in the program. Obviously, living and working in such closeness has created some conflict. I want to share with you today some inspiring things I have learned from the book Words that Hurt, Words that Heal by Telushkin about how to criticize and how to accept rebuke. I have found Telushkin’s advice to be wise and helpful in my own situation, and I hope that his words will help others on their own journeys.
I want to first point out that although it is difficult to give criticism, it is necessary to express frustration in close relationships. This idea is important because it is included in our 613 mitzvot as, “Reprove your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). This can be seen as even though one is obligated to criticize someone when they have wronged, it is a sin to criticize them in a mean manner. This also implies that your motives for reproving someone should be genuine. If you want to point out someone’s faults because it will secretly make you feel better, then it is wrong to criticize. In addition, it is wrong to attack something about a person if it is not related to the instance at hand. For example, telling your roommate, “I don’t like the way you leave dirty dishes around – plus you are always so selfish” will probably just leave your roommate feeling hurt and defensive.
A great way to approach someone is to tell him/her that you also struggle with the same or similar faults that you are criticizing. Explaining how you make efforts to change these things may inspire the person you are criticizing, and putting yourself on their level should keep you from appearing arrogant.
On the flip side – listening with an open mind and heart to others’ criticism of yourself is crucial. Many times when people are criticized they immediately want to fight back, and end up saying hurtful words. It is important to control the urge to fight back with criticisms because if what the “person says about you is true, the fact that he himself has numerous flaws is irrelevant” (Words that Hurt, Words that Heal).
Try and ask yourself is there is truth to what the other person is saying. If there is truth in his/her words, then try and see how you can use this information to improve yourself. Take this opportunity to make yourself a better person, because each day we have the power to change ourselves. Remember that every time we speak we get to choose our words – they can be hurtful, or they can be inspiring. My hope is that we can learn to give criticism with love, and accept it with an open heart and the will to change.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Building the Shelf

Our beautiful shelf! (with our names in chalk, hehe!)


I am proud of us. Today we really came together as a Sheva Community. We started in the morning by finishing up our projects in the little garden. We have been digging a trench and cutting fence to try and keep the animals out. This was a laborious task, but we worked together to finish it today. Ariel collected the rocks, and Ezra and I dug and filled the trench with dirt. Afterwards we planted the rest of the squash along the fence. We also collected rocks and placed them around the tomato bed so that people do not step on them! (They are in the middle of the garden). As we left the garden we started making a list of everything we have worked on in there over the course of the past 4 months. I felt very proud of all the work we have done. When I first moved here, that land was barren. Now it is full of wonderful plants and vegetables. I can’t wait for them to grow!

The thing that made my day today was working together to build a cabinet for BCI art supplies. I felt that I used a lot of new skills I learned while at Sheva. For instance, we used a mallet to break the existing shelves in this cabinet. Then we used a hammer to take out the nails. Afterwards we used a measuring stick to lay out the new shelving, and sawed (very difficult!) the shelf. The three of us really worked together when we were sawing. We could have done separate tasks, but we chose to help each other get the saw perfectly in line to make a great shelf. After a few practice rounds we were ready to cut! Ariel went first, then me, then Ezra. We guided each other and ended up with a beautiful shelf!! I think everyone was surprised at how quickly we accomplished this task. I know now that with a little teamwork, almost anything can be accomplished!

As my time here nears an end, I am starting to get a little sad. We have done so much work here – Everything that I have worked on here I had never done before. I am so proud of myself. And I am so proud of us as a group. Yay Sheva!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Millionaire Pond

Welcome to part 3 of the Pond Saga. Today we spent time making the pond more presentable. We filled it with water (we really only meant to add about a foot of water, oops), added rocks around the outside and we have been adding sand around the outside to make it appear more natural.
Gabe pointed out that our pond is about twice the size of most ponds...except those of millionaires. Its good to be king...I mean, a Sheva Fellow.
There has been a lot of excitement about the pond here for all of us. We have been planning and waiting for a very long time and it is such a pleasure to see it actually becoming realized. In my own way I welcomed the pond into our community today. I know that it is unfinished and there is still much work and play to be done with our pond but the moment came and I couldn't refuse. I kneeled down next to the pond and I slowly lowered my hands into the crystal clear water and felt its delicious coolness run up my fingers past my palms and all the way up to my wrists. I luxuriated for what must have only been moments but seemed like a full minute in its cool embrace and though I don't think I realized it at the time I said a silent and wordless prayer of thanks for that beautiful moment of respite that took me away from myself.
What better kindness could a millionaire, a Jew, or even a Sheva Fellow ask for?